If some of you thought that watching the Knicks/Hawks on Saturday was rough, consider this cruel and unusual punishment: knowing what happened, I still went to the DVR and dug out the game and watched it. Of course I did that to give you all the crucial 10 random thoughts about the game so let’s get to it.
1. The Knicks fifth straight loss at home, came in probably the most embarrassing fashion yet. In a game against a team they had beaten just three days prior the Knicks looked unable to stop the Atlanta offense from doing whatever they wanted. Which brings us to Carmelo Anthony’s postgame assertion that the Knicks are not showing the effort necessary to cut it. I think every Knick fan sees it in the lackadaisical way they go about it on defense and how teams are so easily able to get into the paint where many times you will find one to zero defenders commandeering that valuable piece of real estate.
Melo’s “lack of effort” rant came on the heels of one of his better performances. Smart. You can’t watch Saturday’s game and say that Melo was the cause. He fought for rebounds. He went inside and he truly battled out there. He was not the guy lacking in his effort. I’m not saying that Melo’s accusation is off base, I just find it curious that he be vocal about his team’s effort in probably his best “effort” game. Carmelo was the only player on the Knicks starting five to NOT record a +/- in double digits. Rebounding last year was a huge problem and an even greater cause for concern with Tyson Chandler out but Saturday’s concerted effort on the glass was the lone encouraging sign for the Knicks. Its clear that the Knicks are going to have to start collectively doing things that they left for Tyson to handle like rebounding and protecting the rim. For a team with a collective group of bad one on one defenders, the Knicks can not afford to lose a guy like Tyson for an extended period of time.
2a. In the latest bit of Daily News vs. New York Knicks drama unfolding on an almost daily basis comes this little nugget: Apparently the Daily News knows what Iman Shumpert did this summer. In the second such move the Knicks elected not to disclose for public consumption, Iman Shumpert had a second arthroscopic procedure on the same knee that he injured. This will obviously effect any trade value he may possess which is important because it seems as though the Knicks are determined to trade him for two reasons:
A. He’s their only asset that teams will be interested in.
B. The Knicks are tired of waiting for his offense to develop and some within the organization feel as though his defense may have regressed.
While it may be true that he is one of the few assets the Knicks have that teams would think twice about, his value isnt anywhere close at this point to being able to bring back something meaningful. According to the latest, the Knicks are trying hard to get Rajon Rondo from the rebuilding Celtics. Its a nice thought but I doubt Danny Ainge, the Celts GM, will budge on the package that is rumored to be on the table of Shump, Ray Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire. While Shumpert’s early stats don’t show vast improvement the eye test says his form has vastly improved and virtually every wide open look has seemingly been a make. Eventually his 40.1% rate will improve but that has more to do with the changes the Knicks must make to the offense, and not anything Shump is or isn’t doing.
Secondly, the problem with the development argument is that this iteration of the Knicks have been unwilling to wait for young players to grow and more or less have treated draft picks like goodies to wave in front of teams looking to get younger and rebuild. James Dolan feels this team can win a championship now and that means they need to get better players in here and the only way to do that is via trade. Even if Shump were to show the improvement necessary to make that leap the Knicks brain trust would like, it seems like the Knicks have talked themselves into trading Shump away.
2b. While most Knick fans are fiercely loyal to Shump- and there’s a lot to like- Shumpert is one of those players that are overrated and underrated at the very same time. He’s overrated by a fan base that looks at Shump- the only young player that can play defense which happen to be the two things the Knicks don’t have much of- as a homegrown talent they envision being a superstar. Last year the Knicks had the oldest collective roster in the NBA which made Shumpert’s absence sad and return a much needed gift. New York basketball fans are split into two warring camps: the group of snarly veterans who wonder where the 1970’s Red Holzman style of basketball went and the group of fans who bring the playground mentality to the professional game. Shump pleases both segments of the population but I wonder if they both overrate his ability as a defender.
His wingspan allows him to invade passing lanes just by having his hands up or spread wide. His size allows him to defend multiple positions. He rarely leaves his feet and does a good job of staying in front of quick guards. Those are the positives. The negatives are that he hasn’t played like that guy yet. The obvious go-to excuse is that he’s another Knick recovering from injury and that’s a major part of the equation. The other part is that Shump seems to take more responsibility for the defense on his shoulders because of Tyson Chandler’s absence. He wants to be the anchor but its not easy for a perimeter defender to be the defensive anchor. Shump lost a bit of athleticism that we can’t be sure he will ever recover after his ACL tear. And for a guy who uses his freakish athletic ability to defend other players, its going to take some time for Shump to get back to where we thought he would be. Call this a case of a guy who has put a ton of added pressure to be the man on himself and by a team that probably views him as expendable.
3. I hate to say it but Amar’e Stoudemire has a point. Prior to Saturday’s game he voiced his displeasure at the minutes distribution he was receiving by Coach Woodson which to be fair is what he should say. Remember, he’s a $20 million player with a ton of pride and it can’t be easy to be playing five to nine minutes a game when he was once a cornerstone player. No matter what you think, one day we may look at the Amar’e tenure as one of promises not kept but not the way in which you think. Amar’e was the sole prize of the two year tank job that Dolan was somehow convinced to go through in hopes that Lebron James would come to New York to rescue basketball here. But when the smoke cleared it was Amar’e standing in front of the Mecca screaming to the basketball world that the Knicks were back. And the first half of his first season as a Knick he played his heart out and was a MVP candidate. Then came the trade for Carmelo Anthony and since that time its been one lowlight after another and its been a steady decline for Amar’e. Yes, injuries have decimated and destroyed the remaining bits of athleticism he once had but the Knicks haven’t done him any favors. Their personnel decisions have done him no favors by tying up their salary cap with guys who either need the ball all the time (Melo) or need someone to create for them (Tyson Chandler) leaving Amar’e as yesterday’s news. Think about it, even Andrea Bargnani is a higher priority in the Knick offense than he is and he just walked in the door five minutes ago. A far cliff to fall off for a guy who just three years ago was the Knicks.
This falls on Woodson. His coaching decisions have bordered on horrible this year and he now needs to rectify this. I don’t think Amar’e is done but I do think he needs to rest Amar’e till he’s fully healthy and regains some explosion (he had a few instances where old Amar’e came back which holds promise) rather than throwing out the ghost of Amar’e past for five to nine minutes a game. Its not fair to Amar’e who’s right, you can’t expect a player to gain any type of continuity by being put on the floor for such limited reps. It does him no good and does Kenyon Martin no good, the other guy sentenced to playing time time-out.
4. Speaking of coaching that needs to happen, Woodson needs to begin to entertain the possibility of going to a zone defense. The current scheme of having players rotate and switch on the pick and roll isn’t working because a lot of the Knicks aren’t good individual defensive players which makes it tough for them to excel with such a physically demanding defensive scheme. Simplifying the defense to a zone for the time being while Tyson is out may have to happen for the sake of the Knicks defense and the players who have to play it. I’ve spoken to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal via Twitter timelines about Woodson’s stubbornness and lack of willingness to adapt to his team’s situation which is frankly troubling and sad. Last year’s success had a lot to do with Woodson’s second half adjustments and that just hasn’t happened this year. Its still early but another few more games of the same matador D as Clyde likes to call it, and Woody may need to think up something.
5. J.R. Smith is in the midst of a historically bad shooting slump. Last year he was magic off the bench and many times carried the Knicks through large swaths of Carmelo-less time. This year, inserted into the starting lineup, his effectiveness has been limited. Add to it his ineffectiveness during playoff time, his increasingly annoying twitter feed, and his start this year, its easy to see why even Coach Woodson easily his biggest supporter (clearly not in the organization- thanks Chris Smith) has said that nobody will want to deal with him. The problem is, with shooters you ride the highs and lows. While he doesn’t have the rep of a great high volume shooter he is judged by those standards and so I expect him to get out of this rut. One way to do it may be to get him back in a familiar role so he can rediscover his big play potential.
6. I want every Knick fan to stop dreaming of a Rondo deal. Its not going to happen. You hear me? Not. Gonna. Happen. The Celts would never deal a former franchise star to the Knicks. The Knicks dont have anything past Shump and Hardaway Jr to offer. And frankly, I don’t know how Melo and Rondo would play nice with each other. Also, why would you want to trade an asset like Amar’e Stoudemire who will turn into a $20 million expiring which could be used to make a massive trade deadline deal (hey Kevin Love) next year.
7. Who would’ve thought that Andrea Bargnani’s one on one defense would actually be impressive? True story. He did a pretty solid job on another elite big man in Al Horford. He once again bodied up a big man who thought Bargs would just relent, but that hasn’t happened yet. Obviously his reputation as a lackluster defensive player and his European background (black players look at Euro players as soft- right KG?) make players feel as though they can abuse Bargs but he’s been giving it as good as he takes. Horford had 12 points and 2 rebounds while Bargs dropped 16 and grabbed 9 rebounds, (4 offensive!!). Steady improvement.
8. Again, I’m not overly concerned with the recent losing streak as most are. I see good signs. The offense is still stagnant and it has too many one on ones but that can all be worked out. The Knicks will have a run this season in which they look competent. The stuff in the background that’s happening is good. Melo and Bargs seem to play well off each other. Woodson just needs to put Amar’e in there for more minutes and use Kenyon Martin in the middle to impede the foot traffic through the painted area and the Knicks will start seeing a lot less paint jobs and force teams to play for perimeter shots. Tim Hardaway Jr is getting valuable playing time and he’s not disappointing- as cocky as his father was. Thinks he can make every shot. J.R. will make his shots as the season goes on. If you get the Melo that was setting up shop under the basket like he did on Saturday the Knicks will be good. Expecting that on a daily basis is a bit much but Melo is such a talented offensive player that some nights he won’t need to work so hard for shots underneath the basket, the greater return on his hard play will be the impact it has on his teammates to exert similar effort. Just please, ABORT the hideous orange unis. PLEASE!
9. The Nets lost, which means the Knicks are one game out of first place in the Atlantic Division.
1o. AND STILL I SAY #KNICKSTAPE!